Cole County: On Friday, December 4, Circuit Judge Jon Beetem handed the ACLU of Missouri and Plaintiffs No Bans On Choice a victory, declaring that two statutes used by Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft to impede signature collection in the referendum process are unconstitutional. The statutes, §§ 116.180 and 116.334.2, prohibit the collection of countable signatures on a referendum petition until after the Secretary of State has certified that referendum’s official ballot title.
In June of 2019, after the Missouri Legislature passed one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the nation, Missourians, through their constitutional right to veto any newly enacted law, filed a referendum petition. In a cynical ploy to stop that process, Secretary Ashcroft used every procedural delay at his disposal to make the collection of the required 107,510 valid signatures impossible. Under the Constitution, petitioners have as little as 90 days to collect signatures and the challenged statutes allowed state officials to use 51 days to delay the process.
The legislature, aided and abetted by Secretary of State Ashcroft, robbed Missourians of the right to veto legislation last year, but they could not have done it without the statutes implemented in 1997 that have now been declared unconstitutional. Since these statutes whose purpose is to delay and reduce the time available for signature collection were enacted, only one petition has collected the required amount of signatures, and only because it passed early in the legislative session allowing more time.
Judge Beetem found that “The State may not constitutionally delay the circulation of a referendum petition for the purpose of certifying a ballot title.” This decision applies to all referendum petitions moving forward.
“While the People’s right to referendum that Ashcroft unconstitutionally thwarted last year came in the context of the attempted abortion ban, these statutes could be used to prevent the People from voting on any subject. All Missourians, regardless of their political views, should be pleased to see these statutes go.” Tony Rothert, Legal Director ACLU of Missouri
“The referendum process which acts as guardrails for the people to halt their government from enacting laws that are harmful, overzealous, and out of touch is a bedrock principle of the Missouri Constitution. Judge Beetems’ decision to uphold those principles ensures that all Missourians have a direct remedy to government overreach.” Sara Baker, Policy Director ACLU of Missouri